Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Locked, Loaded And Ready No More / ICEd UP

Many of you will have heard of the Minutemen, mostly retired Americans who sit around in the Arizona desert under their gazebos cradling their proudly held legal firearms chatting away to each other on walkie-talkies and fantasising over what they would do if some poor Latino crossing the US-Mexico border hoved into view over the horizon. Well, the president of the Minutemen, or at least the version called the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps Inc. (MCDC),* Carmen Mercer and her fellow directors have decided to disband the group. It seems that some of her followers have taken her call to come to the border "locked, loaded, and ready" too much to heart. That, and the escalating nastiness of the Tea Party movement, whose members' racial and homophobic abuse of US lawmakers at the recent health care vote, seem to have forced her hand.

"The mental attitude of many Americans is turning meaner … and we are concerned that this could cause problems. You see aggression surfacing even at the tea party marches. We just did not want to deal with the liability anymore," Carmen Mercer is quoted as saying. Maybe she was thinking about Shawna Forde, a Minuteman activist who was found guilt with 2 others of forcing her way into an Arizona house dressed in Police uniforms and shooting dead a Hispanic man, his 9 year old daughter and wounding the girl's mother. And that was well before this latest call to arms.

One would have thought that for an organisation that once had about 12,000 members, her call for more volunteers on the 16 March to "return to the border locked, loaded and ready to stop each and every individual we encounter along the frontier that is now more dangerous than the frontier of Afghanistan,"** smacks of an act of desperation as their numbers dwindled with the explosion of Tea Party groups. And where it leaves the organisation's fight against any immigration amnesty, an amnesty that she claims "lawmakers in Washington have pushed down our throats", only time will tell, especially as recent surveys have sometimes swung between the usually quoted 70% against to 70% in favour of said amnesty. Interestingly, the Washington branch of the MCDC will continue it's rearguard operation against any amnesty, no doubt hoping to enlist Tea Party racism to its cause.

* The Minuteman Project (MMP) was founded in 2005 but quickly split into 2 groups, the new one being called the Civil Homeland Defense patrol group, subsequently renamed the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps Inc. Both operated in Arizona but the MCDC also sanctioned a New Mexico Minuteman group.
** Another prime quote was, "You are strongly encouraged to exercise your rights and duty as an American citizen to carry a long arm and if challenged use it to defend the United States of America."


In other US immigration news, and against the backdrop of newly imposed quotas placed on US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to deport more 'illegal' migrants and try and reverse the steep fall in numbers of removals, which runs counter to the Obama administrations public pronouncements that it should focus primarily of so-called 'foreign national criminals, a further aspect of US immigration policy (or the lack of it) has recently been highlighted.

A lawsuit was filed last Friday by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) lawyers on behalf of two disabled migrants who have been held in detention for more than 4 years. The lawsuits allege that the two men, Jose Antonio Franco, who suffers from severe learning disabilities and is the son of two legal permanent US residents, and Guillermo Gomez-Sanchez, a legal permanent resident and who is a paranoid schizophrenic, have been held for more than four years in various immigration prisons in violation of the right to freedom from indefinite detention and the right to a fair hearing to contest the basis for that detention.

According to Sarah Mehta, Aryeh Neier fellow with Human Rights Watch and the ACLU, who has been investigating ICE's treatment of the mentally disabled for the past eight months in preparation for a forthcoming HRW report, these cases are not unusual as ICE have no policies or procedures in place for dealing with these types of cases and the victims end up languishing in the system in a state of limbo.

Interestingly, this comes at almost exactly the same time as the release of a report entitled 'Justice for Immigration's Hidden Population' by Texas Appleseed, a public interest law centre. It is based on a year-long study of the fate of the mentally disabled in immigration detention in Texas, where 29% of all detainees are held while the US government tries to deport them.

One of the cases highlighted in the report is that of a 50 year old legal permanent US resident with schizophrenia, who had lived in New York since 1974. Last November, a New York criminal court declared him incompetent to stand trial on a trespass charge and ordered him to serve 90 days in a mental institution. Instead, he was transferred to a detention facility in South Texas, to face a deportation proceeding without legal counsel. So abrupt was this, that his family and lawyer did not know it had happened. At the detention centre, he received no medication for weeks, and in March, he was deported to the Dominican Republic to, as his family fear, probably die on the streets.

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